Expert Reviews – Phinda GR

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The cheetahs of Phinda
Overall rating

Phinda Game Reserve is a well-known &Beyond reserve in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal. The quality of wildlife viewing is on a par with what you can expect in the prestigious Sabi Sands Game Reserve. However, Phinda is fully fenced, unlike Sabi Sands, which is part of the Greater Kruger ecosystem with open borders. Early morning and afternoon game drives are centered on finding the Big Five. Leopard sightings are hit-and-miss but, for me, this is more than compensated for by the amazing cheetah encounters I’ve had here. The quality of guiding is excellent and even birders tend to be well-catered for. There are six &Beyond lodges on the property, each with a unique feel and setting but all offering the highest standard of service and food. My favorite is Forest Lodge, tucked away in a special patch of rare sand forest. It is home to unusual birds and mammals such as the diminutive suni antelope which can be found scurrying around the undergrowth.

Much more than just a superb Big Five reserve
Overall rating

If you’ve already ticked off the Big Five, at least once, then the mere fact that Phinda harbours elephants, leopards, lions, buffalo and rhino may not be enough to attract you. But there’s a world of difference between seeing these magnificent animals in the drier regions further north and seeing them in Phinda’s lush surroundings.

This famous private reserve reserve encompasses a supremely rich variety of habitats including vivid subtropical woodlands, grasslands, mountains and wetlands, and it lies close to the Indian Ocean coast, making it every bit as interesting to the tree and plant enthusiast in me as to the wildlife enthusiast. Another feature which, to me, makes Phinda stand out is the fact that it’s a great place to see cheetahs and rare antelopes such as nyalas and red duikers.

It’s also a tremendous bonus that it’s owned and managed by &Beyond, a company that is wholeheartedly committed to sustainable tourism and community responsibility. Its lodges, though pricey and, in the case of Rock Lodge, a little eccentric (its “hacienda-style” rooms remind me a bit of children’s sandcastles), are comfortable and sympathetic to the environment, and there’s a host of activities on offer.

Big Five viewing in Zululand
Overall rating

KwaZulu-Natal’s answer to Sabi Sands is Phinda Game Reserve, an exclusive 230km2/89mi2 private reserve. It offers world-class Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) viewing on guided game drives in open 4x4s. The drives are based out of a handful of stylish small lodges that represent the ultimate in safari chic. Phinda seldom disappoints when it comes to the Big Five. While leopard sightings are somewhat erratic, it is one of a handful of African reserves where the endangered black rhino can be tracked down with reasonable ease. It also offers some of the finest cheetah viewing I’ve had anywhere, and all the wildlife is very habituated. Guiding standards are also very high. Although it is the Big Five that attracts most first-time safari-goers, the reserve protects an interesting diversity of more localized habitats. Of note is a tract of rare sand forest, where the secretive suni antelope and red duiker can be seen. Localized birds are also found here, such as African broadbill, Narina trogon, Neergard’s sunbird and green twinspot pink-throated twinspot. Birders keen to make the most of this opportunity should book into Forest Lodge. All these species can be seen along the network of footpaths that connect the rooms to the main dining area.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.5/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

Rating Breakdown

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  • 4 star 3
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